Our school is small by anyone's standards. Only 42 children are enrolled yet we employ 8 full time staff and 3 part-time. Our paid staff include day-time and night-time guards, teachers, cooks, cleaners and a home-school liaison officer. We also have a robust volunteer program in which locals and people from the UK and USA offer their time to improve the school and the childrenâ€™s learning experiences.
You could be excused for thinking we are over-staffed. However, as always, even this is a question of relativity. One factor that I had not taken into account when we employed our staff was the issue of health. Whilst typing this I am aware that today I need to teach a full-time table. Why? The reason is because our head cook is off suffering with malaria and an infection in her finger, one of our teachers is also off with malaria. In addition 7 of our 42 children were absent from school yesterday because of malaria. This is not all. Nearly all of our staff and about 80% of our children suffer from serious tooth problems â€“ decay, cavities, infected gums.
Today the bursar was supposed to meet with the cook to discuss ways to reduce our spending on food. Food prices have shot up and so the task of reducing expenses whilst ensuring we do not reduce on portion sizes (some of our children eat only one meal a day â€“ at school). The bursar/head cook meeting has been postponed twice and today looks like it will be the third time. The first time because the bursarâ€™s mother was in a coma, the second time because the bursar was admitted into hospital and put on IV treatment for a throat problem (the doctors did not give him a diagnosis and simply give him 5 injections and 2 drips as well as a course of anti-biotics â€“ this â€˜wrongâ€™ treatment cost him more than his months wages).
So we who are holding the fort make up a bizarre looking band of not so merry men and women. There is the guard who has a terrible tooth-ache; the teaching assistant who has malaria but cannot afford to go to the doctors; the other qualified teacher is 7 months pregnant and getting heavier, bigger and more tired with every day that passes. I am suffering from itchy eyes and a snotty nose due to dust allergy â€“ not such a problem in the face of malaria. This leaves us with the cleaner, the part-time kitchen assistant and Tom, the volunteer from England who can say they are physically at their best. Overstaffed? It doesnâ€™t feel like it today.
I hope the pregnant teacher does not catch malaria because if she does that would be a casualty of two.
So today, despite the fact that my time here in Uganda is indefinite due to my husbandâ€™s employment there is no time for administration duties, detailed lesson planning, policy-making, responding to emails, report writing, managing the staff in a meaningful way or making resources for the students.
The sad fact is today there is no time for the children.
No time to talk to them about their lives. No time to laugh and play with them and marvel that children all over the world have a magical capacity to find joy and awe in the small things. No time to talk about their very real and often deep hurts â€“ both physical and emotional.
Today is about basic needs. Today is about hoping that everyone survives so that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we will all be fit and healthy and strong. And when we are, maybe then we can move a rung up Maslowâ€™s hierarchy of needs.
The problem is hope is an inexact science.
For real development â€“ development of the school, development of the staff, development of the children we need to move towards better probabilities of good health and away from the hope of a possibility that we will survive this malaria season. None of us at this school forget the day that one of our studentâ€™s sister died of malaria. Malaria is as common as a common cold but can be as deadly as death.
Todayâ€™s pressing question is not one concerning being over-staffed or understaffed it is a question health. It is a question of survival.